The state faces a tough time with its budget when the next legislative session begins in January 2011, state Rep. Jim Pitts told members of the Waxahachie Lions Club this week.
And the nine-term lawmaker plans to be there to help solve those issues, telling the Lions at their meeting Tuesday, “I am going to run again.”
This session, the 81st Legislature, Pitts is serving a second term as chairman of the 27-member House Appropriations Committee. He also served as chairman of the powerful budget-making body during the 79th Legislature.
By law, the only piece of legislation that has to pass during a session is the state’s biennium budget. Under Pitts’ leadership, the 2009-2011 budget bill was passed unanimously out of committee and on the House floor. After its return from a conference committee with the state Senate, the measure then passed with only two dissenting votes.
The budget, which includes about $80 billion in state general revenues goes into effect Sept. 1. With all funds, including federal money, taken into account, the budget totals $182 billion.
Pitts pointed out that the state’s portion of the budget actually decreased.
“State spending is nearly 2 percent less than the previous biennium,” he said. “We cut state spending.”
The budget does reflect an infusion of about $14 billion in stimulus funding from the federal government.
“It was an exciting time, it was an interesting process,” Pitts said of the session, describing the atmosphere at the state Capitol as “completely different” under the hand of Joe Straus, who was elected speaker of the House at the start of the 81st Legislature.
“It was the leadership we needed this session,” Pitts said of Straus, a San Antonio Republican. “He let the House run itself. And what’s interesting about that is we saw bitter enemies speaking with each other this session – and you wouldn’t have seen that before.
“It was just amazing to see when people had an opportunity to work together, they would do so,” Pitts said. “Together, we had a pretty good product.”
It was a busy session and one where “good things” were accomplished, he said, noting additional monies were directed to public and higher education, with a process also started that will see the designation of a new Tier 1 university within about five years.
Challenges faced with the 2009-2011 budget included the aftermath of Hurricane Ike on Galveston, where lawmakers allocated about $1 billion, and transportation, where they gave an OK for the Texas Department of Transportation to issue about $2 billion in bonds.
The health and human services portion of the budget continues to be a financial drain, Pitts said of the ever-growing demands. That state agency’s head is retiring, with a new director to be brought in for what Pitts described as a “headache job.”
Among brighter notes in the budget was $450 million in funding for cancer research.
“Texas will be on the cutting edge of cancer research. This will be a big deal,” Pitts said, noting economic benefits such as business relocations and job opportunities that should come the state’s way.
The state also is looking to regain its standing in the film industry, with about $60 million allocated to an incentive program to help lure projects to Texas.
“We’re trying to bring the film industry back to Texas, back to Waxahachie,” he said, mentioning other budget items such as $22 million to help repair the Governor’s Mansion, which burned in June 2008.
“All in all, it was a really good session,” Pitts said.
Looking ahead, however, he said that issues relating to the economy today, coupled with several other factors, will catch up to the state’s budget with the next session. Lawmakers were wise not to tap into the Rainy Day Fund for the budget they just passed, Pitts said.
“Frankly, there’s a rainy day coming and we’ll need to use that money next time,” he said, noting a franchise tax that hasn’t met projections and sales tax revenues that continue to be down.
“The state has got to find additional revenues,” Pitts said. “As chairman of appropriations, I have to look for additional revenue.”
Pitts, who has twice been named one of the Legislature’s Top Ten Lawmakers by Texas Monthly magazine due in large part to his work with the state’s budget, represents District 10, which includes Ellis and Hill counties.
He maintains his district office at 310 W. Jefferson St., Suite 1. In Austin, his office is on the first floor of the capitol building, room 1W.2.
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